The Great Derangement

Nicco Mele
6 min readJan 11, 2021

Last weekend I read an excellent novel about an Iraq War hero who is invited to officiate at the Dallas Cowboys’ Thanksgiving Day Half-Time show. By turns hilarious and tragic (in the classical sense), Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is perfect metaphor for our time. I thought about it all week; go read it. This quote is about George W. Bush but could have been written about this week:

“At some point Billy realized he was expecting the president to act, well, embarrassed? Ashamed? For how fucked up everything obviously was. But the commander-in-chief seemed well pleased with the state of things.”

If you had any concern about my frequent assertions over the last few months (and years, if you count my book) that America is a failed state, the events of this last week should put any doubts to rest. With ample notice from online chatter and the President’s own tweets — not to mention a muscular Capitol Police — we were unable to protect the seat of our government. There still has been no press conference explaining what happened, or what is happening now. Details dribble out piecemeal, fueled by social media photos and videos. Meanwhile, a third of Congress continues to insist Biden didn’t win the election even while urging the rest of us to forget the attack on the Capitol in the name of unity. And did I mention our government seems utterly incapable of dealing with the cascading coronavirus crisis? Given the exponential growth of both fatalities and infections, we’re only a handful of weeks away from 50,000 Americans dying of coronavirus every single week.

Folks, it’s getting crazier, and I’m sad to say there’s no end in sight. The incentives — for everyone — point in all the wrong directions and have been building for a long time. In 2008, Matt Taibbi wrote “The Great Derangement” about his travels around a post-9/11 United States and the desire of Americans to believe anything except the truth of their own responsibility for the state of the country: “To be robbed and betrayed by a fiendish underground conspiracy, or by the earthly agents of Satan, is at least a romantic sort of plight — it suggests at least a grand Hollywood-ready confrontation between good and evil.”

Beyond being an apt description for the present, The Great Derangement is also the title of a more recent book by Amitav Ghosh. Ghosh’s book is very, very different from Taibbi’s. This time the derangement is the near-total absence of climate change in popular culture, media, and art. He argues that a few…

Nicco Mele

formerly of @LATimes & @Kennedy_School - author of The End of Big - lots more at — Opinions are my own and not the views of my employer.